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Jim Murray

They Don't Make Owners Like They Used To

May 23, 1985|Jim Murray

Well, I see where the modern-day versions of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance, the baseball owners of America, have taken up the lance and are tilting the windmills of change again.vl,3

Now, they've come up with a dandy: They want the union to tie their hands and make them stop tossing their money off balconies to hired help like drunken sailors.vl,3

They remind me of one of those multiple murderers who leans over the body to scrawl a sign in lipstick on the bathroom mirror, "Help me!" Or "Catch me before I kill again!"vl,3

Can you imagine captains of industry in the United States of America having to beg unions to stop them from their own pathological over-generosity? Feature John D. Rockefeller doing that, can you? J. P. Morgan? Commodore Vanderbilt?You think that's how Diamon Jim Brady made his millions?vl,3

I'll tell you, they don't make capitalists the way they used to. You talk about ballplayers not being what they used to be. They're throwbacks to the old models, compared to owners. Pete Rose may or may not be as good as Ty Cobb, but I have to tell you that George Steinbrenner is not a patch on Branch Rickey.

Did you know that, in 1937, just after he batted .346 with 46 homers and 167, repeat 167, runs batted in, Joe DiMa requested a raise?To $45,000?vl,3

The owner of that day was indignant. He told DiMag that Lou Gehrig had been with the club 13 years and he didn't make $45,000. I'll say he di He made $33,000, it turned out.vl,3

Those were the days when men were men, owners were owners, and ballplayers were peons. You wiped your feet and took off your hat when you w to see an owner in those days.vl,3

Those were the days that Charles Comiskey paid his athletes such niggardly wages that some of them threw the World Series to get enough to feed their families. They got banned from baseball for life. Comiskey went on being known as "the noblest Roman of them all." He just made sure he didn't win any more pennants. With wages he paid, that was easy.vl,3

You think those guys ever had to plead with union to save them from themselves?vl,3

What would you guess Rickey paid the great Dizzy Dean the year the pitcher won 30 games and put Rickey's Cardinals in the World Series and won that for them? He got $You heard me. That's no typo.vl,3

The attitude of management in that era is pretty much summed up in an interview that Rickey granted J. Roy Stockton, recounted in the book, "The Dizziest Season," put together by G. H. Fleming.

"The average salary should be $6,500 for a star player," Rickey says. "And he should b able to play for eight years."vl,3

Says Stockton: "Well, Mr. Rickey, the player gives to baseball the years which, in other businesses, he would be building up his earning capacity with prospects to continue through later life. At $6,500 a year, what would he have t show for his (baseball) labors?"vl,3

Answers Rickey: "Well, out of $6,500, a man should be able to save $5,000. Then, after eight years, he should be able retire with more than $40,000."vl,3

Now, that, you have to say is an owner. An owners' owner. A man who not only ran the club with an iron hand but promoted thrift and frugality in his fellow man and refused to put temptation in his way. You think you needed drug tests for a guy making six grand a year and needing save five of it? I should say not!vl,3

No, those were owners in those days. The real article. In the same book by Fleming, columnist Dan Parker wei in with this terse paragraph:vl,3

"The dope is Jimmie Foxx signed for $16,000, only three grand more than he received last year. In which c the dope is Jimmie Foxx."vl,3

Foxx led the league the year before in homers with 48, in batting with a .346 average, and in RBIs with 163. Two years previous, he 58 home runs and batted .364.vl,3

You can see how ownership as a craft has deteriorated. These guys today are not owners, they're complicated philanthropists. It's not night ball and artificial surfaces and air travel that are ru baseball, it's the owners.vl,3

What ever happened to them? When did they turn from penny-pinching, coin-biting, dollar-hoarding plutocrats and begin to be guys emptying their vaults to banjo-hitting shortstops, .500 pitchers and over-the-hill outfielders? How did they get into the position where, today, they complai of losing $52 million a year?vl,3

They just simply stopped behaving like owners. They began to act like fans, media hypes. They began wor about their public images.vl,3

They got very, very careless. They let the reserve clause slip--just because it was unconstitutional. You think the old-timers ever cared about the Constitution? They let things go to arbitration, then to court.

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